Schools consume a lot of energy. They generate waste, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. But for this East Los Angeles academy, we teamed up with the community to use resources efficiently and create a model of environmental sustainability. The Sonia M. Sotomayor Learning Academies is now a high-performance school that fosters smarter students and leaves a smaller impact on the world they will inherit.

Challenged by environmental restrictions associated with the neighboring railway, we divided the campus into four zones, based on activity level. The shared facility buildings, linked by a broad ribbon canopy, are grouped together to form a protective barrier against the railway’s emissions. The classroom buildings, where passive activity is allowed, fan out and open up as air quality improves, culminating at the play fields. Shared community buildings and spaces—such as the gymnasiums, library, performing arts center and fields—form the edges of the campus, allowing easy community access. Learning spaces are positioned away from the streets, giving students a quiet and secure learning environment, while maintaining openness to the neighborhood.